The Vice Guide To Travel Review
Travel is unpredictable. A stag weekend in Amsterdam, thanks to an unwilling groom-to-be, became a two-day trip wherein we did nothing more exciting than play games of table football. On the other hand, a six-week business trip to Montreal and then on to Sao Paolo, which promised to be very, very dull on the plane out was a barnstorming mix of strip clubs, police raids, bars, brothels, cabaret, drugs, drink, a sprint through the favelas and a hold-up on the road out of the city.
That sense of surprise is something not well understood by the producers of this DVD, New York's Vice Magazine. In the little hardback book that accompanies this DVD, they include six stories on the locations visited on the DVD, being Rio, Nueva Germania, the Congo, Pakistan, Chernobyl, Beirut and Sofia. These stories, when written in the book, appear to offer mutant animals, prostitutes, Nazis, shootouts, nuclear weapons and a dinosaur. Unfortunately, what we have is none of those things. Instead of the mutant monsters of Chernobyl, we have Shane Smith and Pella Kågerman firing a weapon at something moving about in the woods but we see neither it nor anything else with eight eyes and legs. Not even a spider. Unfortunately, we do see a lot of Shane Smith holding out a Geiger Counter for us to take readings off but we can only take their word for what is background radiation and what is currently causing their gums to bleed. The lack of excitement in Chernobyl may have something to do with absence of people, the complete lack of mutants and Shane and Pella warding off radioactive poisoning by consuming large amounts of alcohol, which also has the effect of rendering them silent throughout most of the piece.
Smith also takes us to Beirut to meet PLO Boy Scouts, who, paid off and lined up to say something outrageous, comply by singing songs about wanting to kill Jews. Terrible though this is, it's nothing that Orla Guerin nor Fergal Keane haven't shown us many times before while co-founder of Vice Magazine, Suroosh Alvi, travels to the Gun Markets of Pakistan, meets someone without a tongue and discovers less weaponry than in the average American supermarket. Trace Crutchfield heads to the Slums Of Rio next, dressed so inappropriately in a natty blazer that he couldn't look any more out of place if he went, Bernie Clifton-like, in a giant ostrich costume. He says he was shot at but it might have been firecrackers and also claims to have gone to a baile funk party run by drug dealers. But then doesn't seem to have stayed for very long before heading back to his hotel, pressing his suit and getting a good ten hours sleep. The Last Aryans of Paraguay turns up two crazy old men who live in squalor in the mountains but may not be Nazis. May not really be German, either. In fact, they don't look as though they really know anything, least of all why three people are standing in their house filming them.
This carries on into a report into trying to buy a nuclear warhead in Bulgaria. They meet a man who claims to have met Osama Bin Laden - what Elvis is to the southern states of the US and Lord Lucan is to Britain, Bin Laden is to the vast tract of land from Eastern Europe to the Middle East - and to buy and sell nuclear warheads. We do get to see one of these warheads, which is bright silver and looks like a driveway light but which doesn't look at all like a nuclear warhead. Avoiding the obvious - no military markings and no nuclear symbol - it looks like the only damage that it might do is head trauma from being dropped onto a crowd from an upstairs window. It certainly doesn't look as though it could decimate entire cities. Reporter Shane Smith returns home without a warhead, which doesn't so much force him to come clean about the story but to big it up to an editor trying to make something out of it. Johnny Rotten asked, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" It seemed the right question to ask at this point.
As for the dinosaur, I was expecting a komodo dragon or something similar but what I honestly didn't think would happen would be for David Choe, the narrator of the piece, to get drunk on a couple of glasses of local spirits and to describe how fucked up he is while a man dressed in leaves dances about in front of him. Were I to have drank a bottle or two of whiskey and feeling both generous and patronising, I might - just! - describe him as a dragon while maybe patting him on the head. But, frankly, he looks no more like a dragon than my arse. Nothing to see here, people.
The problem with Vice Guide To Travel is the feeling of disappointment that comes with each story. Had the adventure in the Congo been labelled as David Choe getting drunk, watching a man in leaves dance about and playing drums in a room full of hookers, there would have been much less of a problem. There are dangerous places in the world - there are dangerous places in any major city in the UK - but in spite of the hyperbole, there is nothing that Lonely Planet did with its reporters Ian Wright and Justine Shapiro a decade ago. Or, in more recent years, what Bruce Parry does in Tribe. Had Parry been making this, I suspect that he would not just have turned up with the dinosaur but would, King Kong-style, have brought it back to London. The editing might suggest otherwise but Trace Crutchfield, Shane Smith and David Choe do nothing that you or I might do. And we certainly wouldn't find a dinosaur, buy a nuclear warhead or turn up Nazis in South America. But then, neither do they.
Vice Guide To Travel has been filmed on video and in presented anamorphically in 1.78:1. The DVD doesn't do anything wrong, as such, but it doesn't have very much more to work with than footage that might have come from the better-than-average camcorder. The footage is shaky, can look fairly aimless and you're just as likely to see Shane Smith's back than his face. Same with the audio, which is in DD2.0 stereo and though it's generally recorded via microphone, there are moments when the narration gets lost behind background noise, the effect of the weather and the Vice correspondents facing the wrong way. However, the DVD does a pretty good with all of this but, really, there isn't a great deal that it's called upon to do.
Much of what is here is as misleading as the main feature. White Wizard Of The Congo (1m29s) suggests yet more nonsense in the jungle but turns out to the David Choe spraying graffiti and playing more drums. Gavin And David Go To China (5m37s) where - surprise! - people try to sell them pirate DVDs and fake Rolexs. You could have saved themselves the trouble and simply stood outside Farringdon tube station on a Friday evening. And they eat dog. Again, nothing that the street vendors around Farringdon won't be offering. The Black Lips In Uganda (1m56s) is a music video, Jesco White On... (3m44s) is a crazy old man talking about God, overpopulation in Rio and buying nuclear weapons in Bulgaria. He makes about as much sense as the main feature did on those same subjects. The Dream Machine In Paraguay (2m33s) is a spinning lampshade that one stares into, Suroosh Alvi spends New Year's Eve in Kabul (2m26s) and Eddy Moretti checks in on the Gypsys In Sofia (1m27s) to see children playing in the garbage and in raw sewage. There is also an Easter Egg (1m02s) featuring more of Jesco White.